January 30th began the first stage of SpaceX’s Hyperloop Competition at Texas A&M University, which brought thousands of students, sponsors, and spectators together in their passion of science and engineering in College Station, Texas for what one publication referred to as “the Coachella of the Engineering World”. Among the sponsors present was the team from Align Production Systems, who have been working with several of the teams on their Airfloat powered Hyperloop Pods.
What Is The Hyperloop?
The Hyperloop began as a concept proposed by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors & SpaceX, in 2013. Musk wanted to create a 5th form of transportation that would be able to operate without the impediment of weather or accidents at speeds near that of a jet. Musk likened the original concept to “A cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table.” In SpaceX’s white paper on the Hyperloop, they recommended that competitors look into using Air Caster technology as a means to float on the Hyperloop’s rail system.
The Hyperloop Competition at Texas A&M marked the first presentation of the contestants’ design concepts to the public since the announcement of the contest in August of 2015. The weekend provided a venue for teams from over 20 countries to present the product of their hard work from the past semester. Packed into a conference center, teams from around the world set up booths with demonstrations, models, and swag in an attempt to attract viewers to their ideas for the Hyperloop.
Following the design showcase, students and spectators gathered for the awards ceremony, which featured a special guest, Elon Musk. Musk spoke to the student’s about the future of transportation, engineering, and his vision for the Hyperloop project. He also elaborated on his thought on Air Casters versus Magnetic Levitation as laid out in his initial white paper on the Hyperloop.
Align Production System’s Airfloat Air Caster technology was prominently featured at the competition, with approximately 40% of the entrants using Air Caster technology as part of their Hyperloop Pod design. Alternative solutions to Air Casters included Magnetic Levitation and Wheels, however, Air Caster technology was considered to be the most viable alternative, according to Elon Musk in his white paper.
Wheels don’t work very well at that sort of speed, but a cushion of air does. Air bearings, which use the same basic principle as an air hockey table, have been demonstrated to work at speeds with very low friction. In this case, however, it is the pod that is producing the air cushion, rather than the tube, as it is important to make the tube as low cost and simple as possible.
– Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, Tesla Motors
Following the announcement of the competition, Align Production Systems began receiving requests for information regarding Air Caster technology. Align Production Systems has supplied information on Air Caster technology leading up to the first round of competition.